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Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy

December 1, 2013


One can see in Outer Dark, Cormac McCarthy’s second novel, seeds of what is to come. It has in it the Appalachian setting of Suttree and Child of God, the Biblical underpinnings of Blood Meridian, the random violence of No Country and the darkness of them all, including The Road.

Outer Dark is the story of a brother and sister, Culla and Rinthy Holmes, living together somewhere in the mountains of the eastern U.S. The sister has a baby and the brother is the father. The brother, in an attempt to rid them of the problem, evidence, trouble, whatever he thinks of it, takes the child out and leaves it in the woods to die. There, the baby is discovered by a tinker, who takes it away. When Rinthy finds out, she heads off in pursuit of the tinker, and Culla heads out shortly thereafter in search of Rinthy. Along the way, Culla encounters nothing but misfortune, meanness and misery and Rinthy finds warmth, compassion and kindness.

The morality of the story may seem a bit heavy-handed in a summary—good things happen to good people, etc.—but it’s more palatable in the hands of McCarthy. The result is a story that plays in the dark world of McCarthy’s other works (particularly the ending) but strays closer to parable. It’s not his best, but it is a good read nonetheless. And it is interesting as an early work that gives us insight into McCarthy’s developing style.

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